Silence/ Continuing to Use the Wrong Pronouns
Effect: This is by far the most common reaction I have encountered, along with being the
most painful. Silence constructs a fortified wall, leaving me with the expectation that my
efforts to connect will be treated as a painful intrusion. When the pleas for my dignity to be
honored fall on deaf ears I am left in isolation, with the God gift of my identity recast as a
limitation. The continued use of the incorrect pronouns for an individual adds razor wire to
the barrier between us, as it sets up the person using the wrong pronouns as a judge to whom
I must justify my existence.
Try Instead: "Thank you". When someone tells you their pronouns they have invited you to
share in their journey, to be a part of their life. If someone corrects your use of their
pronouns it is your responsibility to act on it. By restating your sentence and incorporating
the right pronouns you will demonstrate that you have heard them and respect them as
another human being.
Best Option: Be preemptive. When introducing yourself offer your pronouns, even if you feel
they are obvious. The phrase "Hi I'm so & so and I use _____ pronouns" goes a long way
toward creating a space where everyone can share who they are.
"You'll need to be patient with me."
Effect: This situation furthers a power dynamic which disenfranchises the transgender
individual. Rather than building a relationship it strips the transgender person of their right to
be uncomfortable or hurt when they are misgendered. After this statement has been made
anything the transgender person does or says to reflect their discomfort can (and often has)
been used as proof of their "impatience".
Try Instead: "Please correct me if I make a mistake". This statement works toward building a
relationship and acknowledging one's discomfort and fear about making a mistake without
making the other person responsible for your discomfort. It also creates a space for deeper
conversation about why a particular word or phrasing was painful.
Best Option: You do not need to wait until you meet someone who uses gender neutral
pronouns to add them to your vocabulary. Imagine conversations with and about transgender
people using a variety of pronouns, write stories (they can be silly) using characters with
different pronouns. You can also start using the singular "they" to smooth out your speech
instead of the clunky (and erasing phrase) "he or she". The opportunities to integrate gender
affirming language are numerous.
"You're the first person I've met that ____________" / "This is such a new concept"
Effect: This statement clearly marks the individual being spoken to as different and unexpected.
It creates an environment where the person this is addressed to should expect to be
misunderstood, misgendered and mistreated because the speaker "can't be expected to know
any better". It also has the effect of tokenizing the transgender individual, putting them in a
place where they are responsible for representing the entire trans* community, an impossible
Try Instead: "It's wonderful to meet you" or "I'm glad you're here". Remember you are always
meeting an individual, a human being, who has a story to tell that
goes far deeper than their gender.
Best Option: Seek out and learn the stories of gender non-conforming individuals throughout
history. While our particular understanding of gender identity is new, there is a rich tradition of
gender non-conforming individuals in the Bible and throughout time. I encourage you to take
some time to reflect on the lives of
Georgia Black, Jim McHarris, and the many others who
demonstrate gender diversity is anything but a new concept.
"You're so courageous"
Effect: This compliment always makes me uneasy. When I am thanked for my "courage" I am
reminded that I am presently denied the privilege of simply living my life. Because my gender is
not sanctioned by society my every breath and action is often interpreted through the lens of
activism. Thus I view courage as the default position to stay alive rather than a virtue I've
chose to nourish. When people focus on thanking me for my courage, they are reinforcing an
expectation that my life is centered around my gender, rather than allowing me to bring the rest
of my identity to our common work.
Try Instead: "Thank you for your openness", "It's an honor to know you". Focus on
compliments that remind the person you are speaking to that you see them as more than a
gender or a fight for inclusion.
Best Option: Take steps to ensure that transgender people in your community are
not expected to be courageous. Simple things like ensure there are gender-inclusive restrooms,
being proactive about using people's pronouns and lobbying for gender identity protections in
law and practice go a long way in ensuring the burden of courage doesn't fall only on those
who are transgender.
"I'm doing so much better at remembering your pronouns"
Effect: This statement only serves as a reminder that who I am is perceived as an inconvenience
or a burden. It reinforces the false idea that some pronouns are "natural" and thus easy to
remember and others are something that requires a significant amount of effort.
Try Instead: "Have I said anything that hurt you lately?" This creates a space for the person to
be honest about how they are experiencing their interactions with you.
Best Option: Be mindful of how privilege affects expectations. Using a person's correct
pronouns is a mark of basic decency, not an act of kindness you should expect recognition for.
When someone draws attention to the effort they are putting into being inclusive they eradicate
the welcome as the person they are speaking to is reminded of their outsider status.
Context Note: This resource was originally devloped in March 2014 for Christian church communities,
although many of the microaggressions that I explore are not limited to that context.
Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019